The 'Two or More Races' Dilemma
Opponents of the Education Department's new mixed-race categories say they are discriminatory. Are they?
February 13, 2011
Anthony P. Carnevale is a research professor and the director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.
The U. S. Department of Education’s practice of counting Hispanics of all races as singularly Hispanic blurs our understanding of socially significant differences. This policy is most harmful to black Hispanics because of the unique persistence of discrimination and disadvantage among African Americans.
This conflation of race and ethnicity inevitably distorts the diagnosis of the unique educational problems of black Hispanics—or, worse yet, averages them into obsolescence. This is particularly harmful because false or partial diagnosis of any problem inevitably produces less effective policy responses.
As much as we would all like to believe that we have put race behind us, the evidence clearly shows that race still matters. I come to this conclusion reluctantly. While I was vice president of the Educational Testing Service, we spent a substantial amount of time and money trying to find a class-based substitute for race-based affirmative action. However, as much we tortured the data, it would not confess that the educational opportunity problem was about economic class or language barriers rather than race.
Our research since then at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce continues to show that being Black still has independent and powerful negative effects on educational opportunity, quite separate from language and class barriers.
This policy has another unintended consequence. By counting both white and black Hispanics to be simply Hispanic, the Department is implicitly making Hispanic ethnicity into a race.
The resolution of this bureaucratic hiccup is relatively simple. Local educational institutions collect data on both the race and ethnicity of students, and the data reported should be as nuanced as the data collected.